Stadio Angelo Massimino, Catania
Friday, November 30; 19:45 Hrs GMT
Last week was certainly the best one during the season for AC Milan. Not only did the Rossoneri ensure their qualification into the knockout stages of the Champions League by winning their battle against Anderlecht, the team also went on to beat arch rivals Juventus at San Siro – a victory that must have done the team’s morale a world of good. It’s been testing times ever since the season began for Milan and the team has failed to find a winning pattern. Often a good result seems to flatter and the team falters at the very next outset. However, these two results, realized in succession, should finally answer some questions and Milan fans do see reasons to be hopeful once more as the team gears up to face Catania on their trip to Sicily.
The hosts Catania have been coming into this game after a heartbreaking derby loss to Palermo. The season has been topsy-turvy for the Sicilian outfit as they’ve been impressive but inconsistent having managed five wins and as many defeats so far. Rolando Maran has taken charge of a team in Serie A for the first time in his coaching career and has done a reasonably good job. Unlike last season, Catania will look to capitalize on a good start to their campaign and as the season approaches the midpoint, they’d aim at finishing in the top half of the table at the break.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Maran will be without the services of defender Nicolas Spolli and forward Alejandro Gomez as both will be missing out on this game serving a suspension. The manager will find it hard to replace both the regular first team starters in their respective positions. Disciplinary worries do not end there for Catania as each of Almiron, Alvarez, Bellusci and Castro is a booking away from earning a suspension for the consecutive fixture.
Maran has competitively faced Milan only once back in 2005-06 season when he was in charge of Brescia where the Rossoneri got the better of his team in a two legged knockout round tie in the Coppa Italia. The Catania manager is facing Milan for the first time in a league fixture and much naturally, would prefer sticking to the basics. The 4-3-3 formation has so far worked pretty well for the Sicilians and we are likely to see them line up in the same shape on Friday.
Although their opponents of the night are not sailing through the best of the times, Catania will be more than aware of the fact they are coming into this game with a huge confidence boosting victory over Juventus. The hosts should be looking to press the Milan midfield in the first 20 minutes of the game where Milan have repeatedly been extremely susceptible. It takes them time to take control of the game and before they find their grip, Catania must take a lead should they aim to take three points of this game.
Once there is something to protect, Maran should take two of his three man midfield deep in their own half while allow only Lodi to advance and link with the front line. The shape too might change from 4-3-3 to a narrower 4-3-1-2 that offers more security at the back. Catania shall aim to play fluid football and unsettle the shaky looking Milan defence and then fold back as the game progresses and stress much more on organization.
In the absence of Spolli, Giuseppe Bellusci will partner Nicola Legrottaglie in the central defence while they shall be flanked by Pablo Alvarez and Giovanni Marchese on either side. Since the Catania midfield shall focus much more on winning and holding the ball in their own half, the full backs may fancy overlapping the wide midfielders and advancing up the pitch to link up with the forwards.
The three man midfield that Maran deploys will consist of Francesco Lodi in the central playmaking role supported by Almiron and Ricchiuti on either side. Mariano Izco is under evaluation and might not start this game. Lodi will certainly play a little higher than his two companions who will be seen narrowing down while off the ball and advancing with the ball and drift inwards, helping the wide forwards lose their markers.
The three man front line will miss the presence of Argentine forward Alejandro Gomez. Souleymane Doukara will slot in the central role replacing him while the Cameroonian will see two Argentines – Lucas Castro and Pablo Barrientos – operate on either side of him. The three pronged attack will mainly focus on outnumbering the Milan defence as the fullbacks of their visitors do tend to push forward and leave spaces behind them.
Probable Starting Lineup: Andujar(GK); Alvarez, Bellusci, Legrottaglie, Marchese; Almiron, Lodi, Ricchiuti; Barrientos, Doukara, Castro
The visitors are likely to continue the 4-3-3 formation that has been effective in last two results against Anderlecht and Juventus. The erstwhile 4-3-1-2 has been transformed into a variant that offers much more width which is a wise decision considering Milan lack a player who is fit to play in a trequartista role. In the current formation, Milan look much more organized at the back as the midfield has a clearer role assigned with two of the three falling deep from time to time adding numbers to the defence.
Catania do not possess a classical playmaker operating from the deep. Francesco Lodi – perhaps the biggest threat to the Milan defence – rather moves forward and tends to find a defence splitting pass and hence to negate his impact, Milan have to be extremely watchful of his off the ball movement. Someone like Nigel De Jong, given his physical attributes, can easily mark him out of the game and that could be the right way to go.
Milan are likely to continue to start Kevin Prince Boateng at the tip of the attacking three in the centre and the Ghanaian will once again operate in a much deeper position, creating only an illusion of a false nine on paper. The two wide forwards – El Shaarawy and Robinho – should move narrower to give the attacking line a more compact shape with Boateng engaging in ball winning battles in the final third. Catania shall be seen stuffing their own half and will tend to negate the aerial threat from De Sciglio’s crosses.
Boateng will be the one responsible to win those clearances with his superior physique and immediately reignite the attacking move. He is not the greatest with his holding abilities and hence his deeper position – where he finds more luxury to play behind the ball – is only justified. This might as well be the final opportunity for Boateng and he must not forget he’s been getting the game time purely on his performance during the two previous seasons. Should he again fail to deliver, Bojan is knocking on the door. Boateng has accumulated 46 shots on goal – it’s about time one of them met the back of the net.
Montolivo, De Jong and Nocerino will complete the three man midfield where De Jong will restrict himself at duties of breaking the play for opposition. Montolivo has been a standout figure in the season for Milan and he will once again be expected not only to orchestrate the attacking moves from the midfield but also to shield an ambitious Mattia De Sciglio from the right. Nocerino, who has stated this is like a derby fixture to him given his Palermo background, will be seen venturing much higher in the opposition half as Kevin Constant – the fullback on left – will rather choose to sit back and add numbers to defence.
The central defence will see yet another pairing as Mario Yepes is suspended for the fixture and Mexes is doubtful to start the game. Acerbi should pair with Zapata and given the promise both the defenders have showed from time to time, Allegri does not have a real reason to worry – Catania’s attack is not the most threatening one either.
Probable Starting Lineup: Amelia(GK); De Sciglio, Acerbi, Zapata, Constant; Montolivo, De Jong, Nocerino; Robinho, Boateng, El Shaarawy
- Milan have averaged 613 passes in this campaign in comparison to 495.5 of Catania.
- Catania have clocked 9.18 minutes in the opposition’s penalty area whereas Milan beat them on that count too with 12.37 minutes.
- Catania have only lost once at home this season while Milan have only one away win to their name.
*Stats courtesy acmilan.com
Players To Watch Out For
Francesco Lodi (Catania)
The Catania number 10 is the man Allegri will certainly be wary of. His movements, passing range and abilities to convert from set pieces are of the highest quality and that Milan defence has never found the required organization in the season only makes him all the more dangerous. Considering Catania are missing some regular fixtures in the attacking department, Lodi is ever so important for the home side to get anything out of this game.
Riccardo Montolivo (Milan)
In the absence of Abbiati, Montolivo will once again be donning the armband alothough you may feel he no longer needs a symbolism to portray the true leader that he is. Having played with authority against the best midfield in Italy over the last weekend, sky is the limit now for the former Fiorentina player and Milan will be heavily relying on him to deliver the goods one more time.
Catania 1 – 2 Milan
This could very well be the spark that ignites the season for Milan. They must not lose the momentum that they have on their side after the two successive wins. Three points away from home is the perfect recipe to inject the vigour back and take the season forward. Although Milan are bound to concede with the kind of defending, barring the Juventus game, that we’ve seen, they seem to be doing just enough to secure only their second away win in the league.
Blast From The Past